The sounds of honking horns and supportive chants that brought the small gray house at 320 Tompkins Avenue to life have ended.
Today, it sits enveloped by a deafening silence.
In a spirited display of community solidarity, residents, local politicians and housing advocates gathered to thwart the scheduled eviction of 82-year-old , who was a victim of a predatory lending scam.
Real estate speculators target people of color, the poor and the elderly, which makes Ward and neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy ripe for fraudulent lenders and other scam artists.
Furthermore, Bed-Stuy has one of the highest rates of housing foreclosures in the country, in essence, rendering the community vulnerable to housing speculators at auctions.
This involuntary exchange of property into the hands of those looking to benefit off of another's misfortune, weeds out many long-term residents, inevitably accelerating class gentrification.
The community continues to fight to save Ward’s home. If they are successful, great. However, what will be done about the hundreds more who languish in the same predicament. In other words, what is the community's long-term action plan?"
Once a homeowner goes into default, eventually, it becomes public knowledge. Next, they begin receiving personalized solicitations in the form of a fake olive branch. Solicitors begin knocking on their door, calling their house, sending official-looking mail. Offering "help."
Imelba Rodriguez, senior program director of the Bridge Street Development Corporation, BSDC, – a community based organization that offers a number of services including workshops on the dangers of predatory lending and foreclosures – said a lot of residents make the mistake of reaching out to and paying private solicitors before seeking help from local organizations.
Some residents equate cost of service with results and think that free community based organizations cannot do the same job offered by private solicitors, she said.
“They pay these people. But soon the office is closed, the phone number is disconnected, the person is gone, and they are out of money that could have gone towards their mortgage.”
There seems to be another reason some residents seek help from private solicitors first – they’re afraid to speak up locally. “Our houses are being taken. You can go to a block association meeting and the person sitting beside you could be in foreclosure and wouldn’t say a word,” she said. “People are private and don’t won’t to admit they need help.”
Once residents recognize there is no shame in seeking help, we can begin making progress by leaning on each other more and coming up with ways to save homes on a community level.
Yes, holding blockades for residents facing eviction is helpful, and perhaps we consider building a community association that arranges ongoing blockades for residents. But is that approach sustainable long-term?
Although protesting kept Ward in her home an extra week, 768 Dean Inc., the property's speculators, plan to continue with her eviction. Another protest is planned for this Wednesday, but there is no guarantee that she’ll get to stay in her home.
What if the community had a Bedford-Stuyvesant Rainy Day Fund? Perhaps the community can come together and form a credit union where homeowners can opt to pay a certain amount (maybe $30-$50) every month into a fund where they can pull for their mortgage payment up to twice after a certain time-period of savings, if they fall behind.
More immediately, homeowners have to act quickly. Don’t wait. They must open their mail; answer the calls from the bill collector, make arrangements, something Rodriguez said many residents avoid due to fear.
More importantly, they must know the facts and reach out to community organizations that educate on foreclosure, and predatory lending first.
If we cannot recognize when it's time to address a problem, or even feel comfortable enough to reach out to our community for help, we will continue to trust the wrong people and continue to lose our homes to real estate speculators at auctions.